The Problem of Hegel


Watson, John. “The Problem of Hegel.” The Philosophical Review 3, no. 5 (1894): 546. https://doi.org/10.2307/2175688


OVER thirty years ago Ferrier spoke of Hegel as "impenetrable, almost throughout, as a mountain of Adamant." To some persons he seems to be as "impenetrable" as ever. Quite recently we were informed that he "approached philosophy as a business," and that "even his closest students and most ardent admirers have disagreed widely as to what he really intended to teach." His "method," however, the writer proceeds, "may be thus summarized: when by its self-movement thought has determined itself as pure thought, it turns to the problem of evolving itself so as to display its organic constituents. Thus, it passes from the sphere of pure logic into that of metaphysics, since thought and being are one." I do not think that "his closest students and most ardent admirers'' would accept the cynical view, which Mr. Hill seems to have borrowed from Schopenhauer, that Hegel ``approached philosophy as a business," though they would certainly admit that he regarded the solution of its problems as possible only for those who were prepared to discard rhetorical commonplaces, and to give themselves up to long and strenuous labor; and I am certain that none of them would accept as correct the wonderful sentences in which the writer characterizes the method of Hegel. Most people are now aware that for Hegel logic and metaphysics are identical, and therefore that there is, in his view, no "passing" from "the sphere of pure logic into that of metaphysics." I confess that, until I read these remarkable sentences, I was under the impression that the labors of Dr. Stirling, Professors Wallace and Caird, and Mr. W. T. Harris, had made the meaning of Hegel tolerably plain, and that any further general statement would be superfluous. Evidently, I have been too optimistic, and this of itself may, perhaps, justify a few desultory remarks on the aim and method of that great thinker. I am also glad of the opportunity of drawing attention to Professor Wallace's Prolegomena and revised translation of the first part of Hegel's Encyclopedia, as well as his just published translation of the third part, under the title of "The Philosophy of Mind," with the very able and suggestive essays which accompany it. Hegel, indeed, to be understood fully, must be studied in his own words, and he will not be adequately introduced to the English reader until the Science of Logic has been fully translated, explained and illustrated by someone who is willing to perform a hard, and, in some ways, a thankless task; but after what Mr. Wallace has done so admirably, no writer can have any excuse for such a very superficial statement of the Hegelian "method" as that which has been quoted. Even a moderate acquaintance with the text of Hegel and no one without such acquaintance is entitled to speak on the subject at all would have shown the critic that Hegel denies the very existence of a "pure thought" which moves in a vacuum and proceeds by the method of mere analysis. There is, in his view, no "passing" from "thought" to "being," for the simple reason that a "thought" which does not think "being," never existed, and never could exist. The whole aim of his Logic is to show that thought is competent to grasp "being" in its inmost nature, and that we have only to state explicitly what thought actually thinks, to be convinced beyond the possibility of doubt, that we actually think "being" as it is, not any distorted appearance of it. No thinker has ever insisted with the same energy of conviction as Hegel that the world we know is the only real world. This conviction, indeed, is bound up with his whole conception of reality; for he believed, and regarded it as" the special task of philosophy to demonstrate, that in the world as it actually is the world of nature, and the distinctively -human world of society, art, and religion reason is at work, and hence that the task of philosophy is to show that "what is real is rational." Hegel, therefore, rejects as figments all theories which assume a transcendent world, a world which simply "is to be," whether the assumption takes the form of a " noumenal world," lying beyond the sphere of knowledge, or of an "intelligible world," which indicates an ideal or morality "too good" to be realized. The spiritual world, as he is continually saying, is not a world "beyond" the known, but the actual world contemplated from the inside, or as it truly is. The philosophy of Hegel is thus, in Carlyle's phrase, a "natural supernaturalism."


The time seems to me to have come when Hegel may be approached in the true spirit of philosophical impartiality. There is no reason why we should be either blind opponents or blind partisans. The conception of development which Hegel himself was the first to apply to the history of philosophy demands a different attitude of mind. It is not without a certain wonder that one finds in some recent writers a claim put forward on behalf of some eminent thinker of the past to be the philosopher par excellence, who has given us the one true and final system. Mr. Huxley long ago made a strong claim on behalf of Descartes; Spinoza has recently found in Germany two enthusiastic disciples; Leibnitz has secured in Dillmann an advocate whose adoration is almost touching, and 'Back to Kant ' was long the watchword. In all this we cannot but see a very inadequate comprehension of the process of development as it is exhibited in the sphere of philosophical speculation. We may be perfectly certain that none of those thinkers has given a final solution, while yet each has carried the solution a step further. When, therefore, I venture to advocate the claim of Hegel to a more careful consideration than he has in general yet received, I do so on the same ground as I should urge the claim to sympathetic treatment of all the great thinkers of the past. Hegel seems to me to be the epitome of that remarkable period of intellectual activity which burst upon the world at the beginning of this century, and to understand him is to comprehend one of the most important movements of modern thought. That a period of revolt from his influence succeeded a period of enthusiastic discipleship is not only what we should expect, but what the progress of thought absolutely demanded; but, as it seems to me, there are plain intimations that we have now reached a point where a calm and unbiased study of his work ought to be fruitful in helping us to solve the problems of life for ourselves. We are in a better position to do him justice than our predecessors. Just as we now appreciate the import of Christianity in a deeper way than those who first came under its influence; just as it is not too much to say that Plato and Aristotle are now understood even better than they understood themselves; so we may hope that the study of Hegel as one of the last links in a long chain of development may enable us to comprehend and profit by his teaching better than ever before. Hegel may surely now be allowed to take his place in the philosophical Valhalla, side by side with Plato and Aristotle, and his great predecessors of the modern age. Contact with a mind so wide, so subtle and so deep, a mind fired with sympathy for all the manifestations of the human spirit, cannot be otherwise than stimulating and ennobling. With certain reservations, Hegel is perhaps the thinker of modern times who comes nearest to Plato's noble ideal of the philosopher as " the spectator of all time and all existence." Even when he partially fails to penetrate stubborn and unyielding material, as in his Philosophy of Nature, it is from no want of good-will, but from that failure of energy which attaches to even the strongest; and if in his Political Theory he partly exhibits the limitations of his country and his time, his general conception of society and the state seems to me to be, in its grand outlines, a remarkable synthesis of the just claims of the individual and the universal. To regard Hegel in this way as the mouth-piece of the early part of our century, means, of course, that philosophy is a process, and is the expression, in terms of pure reflection, of what is expressed in other ways in the less reflective regions of art and religion. It is, therefore, necessary to say a word about the movement which, in the eighteenth century, preceded and made possible the new epoch. The seventeenth century, as we know, was a period of genuine constructive activity an "Age of Faith," as Carlyle would say. However, they differ in other respects, Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibnitz are entirely at one in their faith in the possibility of knowledge and of goodness. Each of them has the large, free vision of the genuinely speculative intellect, which "sees life steadily and sees it whole." In the following century this faith is "sicklied o'er with a pale cast of thought." Somehow the light has faded, and men live in the region of the sober, prosaic intellect, which is determined to have no illusions, and is afraid, above all things, of Schwermer. In Germany the philosophical mouthpiece of this dry, unideal period is Wolff. The Medusa-like power which Wolff exhibits of turning the living ideas of Leibnitz into stone, or, as Dante would say, into enamel, is perfectly marvelous. Dr. Reid had a very pretty talent of the same kind, but his Scotch shrewdness and common sense saved him from the dull, dreaming, interminable pedantry of his German counterpart. One is reminded, in reading Wolff, of Dr. Johnson's saying: "Why, sir, some men are dull, but Sherry's dullness is beyond nature." Yet Wolff did not live in vain. Through all his heavy platitudes we can see the struggle to throw off the leaden weight of tradition, and to sanctify the human relations, especially the relation of the family. There is in him a spark of the divine rage for Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity, which burst forth in the half-frenzied rhetoric of Rousseau, and in Germany in the extravagancies of the Sturm and Drang period of "genius." The immediate influence of Wolff, however, was to reveal the emptiness of human life, when thus stripped of its ideal elements. Leibnitz imaged all things as filled with a potent energy, which witnessed at once of the specific quality of the individual and the ordered rhythm and harmony of the whole ; Wolff's conception of the monads is of the dead, isolated parts of a machine. The master, with the instinct of a genuinely speculative intellect, conceived of soul and body as but lower and higher forms of one being, and found an essential kindredship in all things, from the mineral to the plant, the plant to the animal, the animal to man; the disciple made soul and body two different things, "like two pieces of wood tied together with a string " (as Hegel says with less truth of Kant's 'schematism'), while the affinity of the various orders of existence vanishes under the leaden spell of his prosaic intellect. For Leibnitz, God was the "Monad of Monads," the Unity who reflected in himself all differences, and in whom all finite monads lived and moved and had their being; Wolff, after the manner of his time, thought of God simply as an Eire Supreme, pushing and pulling the dead machine of the universe, and arranging things so as to secure the happiness of the respectable burgher. But we must not forget the work which the eighteenth century and Wolff as an exponent of its point of view was instrumental in accomplishing. The revolt from medievalism, which was expressed in the Revival of Letters and the Reformation, was not fully conscious of its own meaning. The substance of the new evangel of freedom and of the Christian faith only obtained in them a very confused and inadequate expression. Even Leibnitz, with all his speculative insight, had by no means grasped his own principle purely: he had the "Idea," as Hegel would say, but he expressed it in terms of the divisive understanding. It was, therefore, by a sort of nemesis that his philosophy was for so long known to his countrymen in its form rather than in its spirit. Nor was Leibnitz himself personally blameless. The fragmentary way in which he expressed himself, and that strong craving for sympathy which caused him to shrink from unpopularity, was the weak side of his intellectual comprehensiveness, a comprehensiveness which led him to say that most systems are" right in what they affirm and wrong in what they deny." Especially in his Theodice, though he is really suggesting a wide view of the development of the religious consciousness, he is ostensibly the champion of current theological abstractions Now, clearness of thought, and even of expression, is an essential step in Reimarus, which was virtually a summary of the whole Deistic movement, was a preparation for a genuinely historical view of religion. The Wolfenbiittel fragments accomplished in the sphere of theology and biblical criticism what Wolff had done in the region of abstract reflection : they brought to light the contradictions in the current theological creed, with its wooden conception of evil and good as externally transferred without the free movement of the individual's own spirit, and revealed the untenability of the mechanical view of divine inspiration. Thus, Reimarus prepared the way for that historical conception of religion which is now a commonplace among all thinking men.


The positive beginnings, however, of the new and wider view of life, first showed themselves in the realm of art. The hard, prosaic, unideal view began to die when Winckelmann, as the exponent of a kind of second Renaissance, opened up to his countrymen a new world in the art and life of antiquity. For Winckelmann was led by his wonderful insight into the mind of Greece to apply the idea of evolution to its artistic products. He has still so far an imperfect grasp of his own principle, that he regards Greek art, and especially Greek sculpture, as the ultimate form of art; but the way in which he divides the history of true art into four great periods, regarding these as the successive phases of its development, and seeks to connect them with the general development of Greek life, as well as the suggestive parallel which he draws between these phases and the four periods in the development of the art of the Renaissance, was a fruitful germ, which has not even yet, perhaps, exhibited all that is implicit in it. The new idea was applied to literature and literary criticism by Lessing, with a similar instructive correctness and a similar inadequacy. The revolt from the pseudo-classicism of modern painting and sculpture, of which Winckelmann is the exponent, is paralleled by Lessing's revolt against the prosaic practice and theory of Gottsched. And, as Winckelmann sought to lead the mind of his countrymen back to the masterpieces of Greek sculpture, so Lessing directed their attention to the drama of Sophocles and the "Poetics" of Aristotle, while, at the same time, under the guise of holding up to his time the mirror of pure literature and pure literary criticism, he is really contending for a fresh and spontaneous literature, springing from the normal life, and for a literary criticism wider and deeper than the Aristotelian formulae are fitted to express. But this by no means exhausts Lessing's services to his countrymen. His Education of the Human Race is the first free handling in modern times of biblical criticism on the historical method and has proved to be the fruitful mother of a numerous progeny. In this, as in all his work, Lessing's spirit is larger than his articulate theory: under the guise of divine "accommodation" to the growing needs of successive ages, he is virtually maintaining that the sacred scriptures contain a record of the growing consciousness of the divine meaning of life.


When we pass from Lessing to Herder, we see how the new idea of development is struggling to a clearer consciousness of itself. Under the influence of Rousseau, Herder was led to see in early mythology, and in the simple spontaneous utterances of the folksongs, the undivided energy which displays itself more fully in the higher utterances of poetry. Himself a pupil of Kant, he has no sympathy for the hard, logical distinctions which form the outer garb of the Critical Philosophy, and, indeed, his speculative faculty was not strong enough to pierce the somewhat forbidding vesture in which Kant presented his thought and to do justice to the reconciling impulse which works in him almost against his will. Herder will have no divisions of body and soul, desire and reason, theoretical and practical intelligence: man develops as a whole, and it is vain to ask what belongs to his physical and what to his moral nature. Herder even admits a supernatural influence, working in the background and starting the movement of humanity, though when he comes to trace that movement itself, he explains it as the free development on a natural basis of a single energy. His main significance, however, lay in his suggestion of the solidarity of the race in the whole of its movement. That he has now ceased to be read, except for historical purposes, is mainly due to the fact that all he had to say was absorbed and remodeled by Goethe and Hegel.


In Goethe we have, in the form of intuition, a wide and clear insight into the organic unity in diverse shapes of all existence. He has "swallowed all formulas," and comes to the contemplation of life with the fresh energy of one over whom tradition


has no influence. Equally opposed to the dead and lifeless orthodoxy of the age preceding him and to the barren abstractions of Deism, he seeks everywhere for traces of the divine, not beyond the world, but in it, in the formative processes of plant and animal, and in the intuitions of genius, which he regards as a divine energy in the form of nature. Like Herder, he has a strong antipathy to all abstract oppositions which destroy the freedom and unity of the whole; but, unlike Herder, he refuses to be satisfied with vague and hazy generalizations, and he is thus enabled to penetrate, by the force and energy of his genius, to the unity underlying the multifarious phenomena of nature and of human life. Strong in his conviction of the rational unity of all things, he cannot brook anything that looks like a dualism of matter and mind, body and soul, the world and God. Like Aristotle, he will see the universal in the particular. Hence his coldness for the Kantian philosophy, so far as the Critiques of Pure and Practical Reason are concerned. It was only when Kant, in the Critique of Judgment, seemed to countenance the organic unity of nature and mind, feeling and reason, the world and God, that Goethe was partially reconciled to them, and could feel something of the enthusiasm of the less comprehensive Schiller. It is characteristic of the new movement that Lessing, Herder, and Goethe all seemed to find in Spinoza the exponent of a higher view of life than in their own philosophical contemporaries. It is an entire mistake to suppose that this meant a reversion to Spinozism; such a reversion is not only contrary to fact, but it may safely be pronounced impossible: no age ever returns to the philosophy of a preceding age, though it may find in some thinker of the past a kindred spirit who responds, or rather seems to respond, to its own needs. The Spinoza of Lessing, Herder, and Goethe is not the historical Spinoza, but a product of their own consciousness, as interpreting in a large and liberal fashion what he merely suggested. What they seemed to see in him was that grasp of the unity of all existence after which they were striving. And no doubt Spinoza makes the unity of all things the central principle of his system, but it is the unity reached by an effacement of difference, not the unity in difference which they read into him.


I have thought it worthwhile to introduce this hurried and imperfect sketch of the literary development of this powerful epoch, because I wish to press home the truth, that the philosophical movement from Kant to Hegel, which ran parallel with it, was not an isolated phenomenon, but its genuine counterpart. The process of thought from Kant to Hegel exhibits the same revolt from abstraction and the same impulse after organic unity as characterized the development from Lessing to Goethe. The philosophy of Kant began in a reaction from Wolff, and, if it retained to the last the marks of the pit from which it was digged, it yet was a continuous, though partly ineffectual, effort to transcend the oppositions which prevented it from breathing a larger and more liberal air. For Kant, although he ostensibly confines knowledge within the sphere of the phenomenal, is all through pointing "as by a side gesture," to use Goethe's phrase, and pointing ever more emphatically, to a unity which is to reconcile all differences; and in the Critique of Judgment, the veil drawn between the phenomenal and noumenal has grown so thin that at a touch it must drop away. When reason is shown to be the soul of aesthetic feeling, when the world is declared to be conceivable by us only as an organism, and when it is contended that from the highest point of view all contradictions must be transcended, the spirit of the Critical Philosophy is manifestly too potent and too expansive to be much longer restricted to its tabernacle of clay. With Fichte the work of liberation consciously begins. The contrast between the phenomenal and noumenal, which Kant could never quite transcend, was felt by Fichte to be untenable, and he seeks to reduce the phenomenal to the form which the universal reason working in man contracts as the means of realizing its own self-centered life. The categories or forms of thought are now conceived, not as peculiar to man, but as belonging to the very nature of self-conscious intelligence. But, though there is no thing-in itself lying beyond the confines of intelligence, yet the object, or non-Ego, which the subject opposes to itself is the necessary condition of self-consciousness, and, with the annihilation of the distinction of subject and object, intelligence itself would be annihilated. Hence, no extension of knowledge and no advance in morality can remove the limit which intelligence has set up: it is a distinction never to be transcended while intelligence lasts. It is thus obvious that, with the strongest instinct for the unity of subject and object, mind and nature, Fichte has not laid the ghost of the thing-in-itself. The opposition is now transferred to the arena of intelligence itself, and if it is less hopeless of solution, that is because it more plainly demands solution than when Kant could seem to preserve the integrity of Reason by keeping it pure from the contamination of the phenomenal world. What underlies the philosophy of Fichte is obviously the assumption that the world of nature is not the product of Reason through and through but contains an element which is given in an "incomprehensible act." The next attempt at solution, therefore, naturally took the shape of an endeavor to show that Nature exhibits the same essential features as Mind, and hence that Nature and Mind must be two aspects of the one universal Reason. This was the doctrine advanced by Schelling. But the manner in which Schelling sought to exhibit the fundamental identity of Mind and Nature was virtually to efface their differences, and then to affirm their identity. This " new way of ideas" was but a transformed Spinozism. If mind and nature are identical in the sense that in the former we can find nothing that we do not find in the latter, from the ultimate or philosophical point of view mind must be stripped of its differentia of self-conscious activity, and once more we are back in the troubled region, where the real is not the rational and the rational is not the real. It was really a feeling of the inadequacy of his own solution which led Schelling to fall back upon an "intellectual intuition"; for, in thus seeking to borrow the method of art, he virtually confessed that the identity of mind and nature could not be justified by the reflective consciousness, but must simply be accepted in the end as a matter of faith. It is thus obvious that the problem still remained, to prove by regular and graduated steps what Schelling had, after all, assumed, namely, that all the oppositions which seem to make an ultimate synthesis of intelligence and nature impossible, disappear when their tacit presuppositions are brought to light by the systematic and orderly development of all the points of view from which existence may be regarded. To this task Hegel set himself in his Science of Logic.

The value of a philosophy relatively to other systems must be estimated by the clearness and completeness with which it sees the complexity of the problem to be solved, and the success it is able to achieve in the solution of that problem. From what has been said it is obvious that Hegel, coming at the close of an epoch and responsive to all the movements of his time, had before him a task of tremendous difficulty. At the same time, the way had been prepared for him by the labors of others. The direction in which a solution had to be sought, and the inadequacy of the solutions proposed, he had no difficulty in seeing. He occupies in modern philosophy very much the position of Aristotle in ancient philosophy ; for just as the task of Aristotle was to carry out to its results the Idealism of Plato, and to transform it into a clearly-articulated system, so Hegel's work largely consisted in liberating the Critical Philosophy from its inconsistencies, and in presenting as distinct spheres of philosophy what Kant had combined in an indistinct fullness. Thus, what Kant calls Transcendental Logic, including the doctrine of the Categories of the Ideas of Reason and of Method, and distinguishes from Formal Logic, becomes in Hegel the "System of Logic." In other words, Logic is now regarded as a Metaphysic, a systematic exhibition of the knowable world, which is the only real world. It would be quite possible, and perhaps it would be the most readily intelligible mode of explaining the Logic of Hegel, to show how it has issued from a recasting of the Kantian Transcendental Logic in the light of the principle that, as there is no absolute distinction between phenomena and noumena, so there can be no absolute distinction between human intelligence and a supposititious intelligence which can only be defined as nonhuman; and therefore that there can be no absolute opposition between Categories and Ideas. Again, when Hegel rejects the doctrine of Kant that space and time are forms of human perception, he at once sees that they are upon the same level as matter, motion and force, with which Kant deals in his "Rudiments of Physics," and further, that the phenomena of organic life, which Kant only considered in the "Critique of Judgment" in connection with the metaphysical problem of Teleology, belong to the same sphere. Hence, Hegel distinguishes the "Philosophy of Nature '' from Logic, and seeks to show how, starting with Nature in its pure externality as space, we find that it manifests more and more explicitly an internal unity, passing from mechanism to chemism, and from chemism to organism, until it finally discloses itself in its real nature in mind. Lastly, Hegel combines in his Philosophy of Mind the hints scattered through Kant's three Critiques, with the suggestions in his "Anthropology," and. thus endeavors to map out the whole sphere of mind, combining in one view the principles of Psychology, Ethics, Politics, Art, and Religion.


In saying that there is so close a connection between Kant and Hegel, a connection which is manifest from Hegel's continual polemic against Kant, just as Aristotle's dependence on Plato is similarity revealed, it must not be supposed that Hegel started from Kant, and by a criticism of his doctrine evolved his own philosophy. The fact, rather, is, that by his own independent development he was prepared to detect at once the strength and the weakness of Kant in a way that was impossible to his immediate predecessors, with their one-sided and limited point of view. As Mr. Caird has shown in his "small but golden book," 1 the questions with which Hegel was at first occupied were not philosophical but historical, consisting of studies in Greek life and art, and in the development of religion. In connection with the latter topic, we Can see the lingering influences upon him of the unsympathetic attitude of the eighteenth century. Thus, he seemed to find in the religion of Greece a higher form of the religious consciousness than in Christianity. Such a view we can explain only by remembering that Christianity had not cast off the mediaeval garb which it had assumed in the Middle Ages for historical causes, and that, in his youthful revolt from the "other worldliness" of the Church, Hegel hastily identified Christianity with one of its passing phases. But a mind so penetrative and sympathetic as his could not long mistake the form for the substance. Had he done so, we should have lost that firm grasp of the evolution of the religious consciousness which he was afterward to give; nay, we should have lost that conception of the whole history of man as the gradual development of reason, and that illuminating conception of the history of philosophy as the evolution in time of an ever more adequate idea of the world, which he was the first to set forth with clearness and power. Those of Hegel's countrymen who still affect to speak of him as, in Lessing's phrase, "a dead dog," ought to remember that his spirit lives in every history of philosophy which issues from the press. No doubt much has been done since his day to throw light upon the doctrines of individual philosophers and their affiliation to one another, but, for my own part, I must confess that a recent rereading of his Logic has forcibly impressed me with the marvelous sympathy which enabled him to seize the essential truth of all the great thinkers of the past, at a time when they were known only in an external and superficial fashion. The transformation which the new evolutional point of view, as applied to the history of thought, had effected in a comparatively short time, will be at once apparent to anyone who contrasts the unsympathetic remarks of Kant upon the Idealism of Plato with the full and sympathetic appreciation of Hegel.


To the careful political studies of Hegel, I need only refer. The short limits of an article warn me that I must hasten on to the final philosophical form in which Hegel, armed with a wide historical knowledge, came to the solution of the problems which Kant had raised, and which Fichte and Schelling had treated in a suggestive but unsatisfactory way. Nor can I stay to speak of his Phenomenology of Spirit, the richly suggestive work in which, for the first time in the history of philosophy, an attempt was made to find the operation of reason in all the phases of the human spirit, as these reveal themselves on a large scale in the history of the world. It is plainly out of the question to deal adequately with such a comprehensive system as that of Hegel in a single paper, and all that I can hope to do is to remove, if I can, some difficulties and misconceptions which stand in the way.

The first part of the Hegelian system, as has already been indicated, is the Logic, which consists of a systematic treatment of the universal points of view in which the human mind comes to a consciousness of the true nature of existence. We might express, in a somewhat external way, the course of thought which Hegel follows by saying that in the first part he exhibits the circle of ideas which naturally arise in the attempt to conceive of the world as consisting of particulars, unrelated either to one another or to the knowing subject; that the second part sets forth the ideas by which the world is made intelligible to the mind which has discovered that particulars have no reality except in their relation to one another; and that the third part treats of the categories which the mind employs when it has risen to the consciousness that the world is a rational system or organic unity, in which every part is instinct with the life of the whole. Such general statements, however, are not of much value, and I shall try to give some idea of the method of Hegel in actual operation.


It is unfortunate that the plan of Hegel's Logic, which compels him to begin with the most abstract or least adequate determinations of reality, plunges us at once into a region which the modern mind has largely outgrown. The importance of a discussion of such a principle as causality we can readily understand, but the bearing of abstractions like "being" and "nothing" upon the problem of existence is not so obvious. And possibly Hegel is somewhat too fond of such paradoxes as that "pure being is the same as pure nothing," though it is not hard to show that in this enigmatic statement a principle of great significance lies concealed. The "remarks" of Hegel ought, however, to have made his meaning tolerably clear. "Parmenides," he says," held fast by being and, indeed, he did so in the most consistent way, maintaining that 'nothing' is not, but only being is. Now, 'being,' taken in this isolated way, has no relation to any other idea." For Hegel, Parmenides is the first thinker who escaped from the sensible world of particulars and grasped the idea that beyond all particulars there is an absolute Reality which alone can truly be said to be. The ordinary man dwells habitually in the sphere of the particular, and it is only at rare moments that, as by a flash of insight, he comes to the consciousness that there is a reality which no sum of particulars can express. This act of abstraction, indeed, is one that is performed at some moment by everyone who reflects at all. Who has not experienced a feeling of the unity of all things, when, like Xenophanes, he "looked up to the expanse of heaven and saw that all is one? "With most of us this is a transient mood: immediately the overpowering reality of the particulars of sense submerges the consciousness of unity, and we straightway forget what had for a moment gleamed upon us; whereas Parmenides, with the instinct of speculative genius, seizes what has thus revealed itself, dwells upon it, and refuses to let it go. The ordinary mind passes from the unity of all things to the multifarious details of the sensible world, and contents itself with the vague feeling that somehow these details harmonize with the unity which is beyond them all; Parmenides, on the other hand, works out to its consequences the idea of the pure reality which is distinct from all particulars. If the true reality is infinite or beyond all particulars, the latter can have no genuine reality, but must be fitful, changeable, and unreal. True being must be unchangeable, eternal, motionless: the reality of the sensible must, therefore, be mere appearance. In thus working out his principle to its ultimate result, Parmenides deserves the highest commendation. But he did not see that, in thus withdrawing reality from the flux of the sensible, he had at the same time destroyed it. For, when the idea of 'being' is separated from its correlative 'nothing,' it is still 'nothing. 'Being' with no negation in it 'being' without any principle of life and movement is a reality which is no reality. It cannot be the explanation of the particular because it is simply the absence of all that could possibly be the reality of the particular. We must, therefore, conceive of reality as ' being' with 'negation' in it, or, more simply, as a self-negating unity. This complex idea of the unity of being and nothing may be best expressed by the term ‘becoming', and hence Hegel maintains that the 'truth' of 'being' and 'nothing' is 'becoming.' Reality, in other words, is not dead, motionless being, but being which preserves itself by ever negating and ever restoring itself.


It may make the meaning of Hegel plainer, if we take an illustration from a modern thinker. Mr. Herbert Spencer gives us to understand that the true Reality must be beyond the distinction of subject and object, and that of it we can only affirm that it is, without being able to define in the least what it is. Now, Hegel, in showing that "pure being is pure nothing," has refuted this doctrine by anticipation. The "Absolute" of Mr. Spencer is simply the Hegelian "being," of which we cannot even affirm that it is without contradicting ourselves. The only Absolute which is thinkable at all is an Absolute which is manifested in the Relative, and which, therefore, has no reality apart from its manifestations. The truth is that all theories which affirm the "relativity of knowledge" in an absolute sense are open to the Hegelian criticism that what is beyond knowledge is not 'being,' but 'nothing'; in other words, that we are in all such cases the victims of our own abstraction. Whether it is affirmed that Psychology has to do only with 'subjective states,' or that Epistemology deals with the knowable world, not with the world in its real nature, or that the object of Theology is a Being beyond the world, or that conception is merely a form of our thought; in all these cases the criticism applies that we are making blank 'nothing' the principle of 'being’ Every real science must deal with reality, and there is no reality which can be shut up and isolated without becoming mere nothing or illusion.


The true nature of things, then, as we may safely conclude, is not to be found by conceiving existence as "dead process less being"; the Real must appear in a determinate form. But with a recognition of this truth we fall into a new difficulty. We have escaped from the "being" of Parmenides, but we seem to have fallen into the "flux" of Heraclitus. For a determinate being, containing within itself the seed of its own destruction, is subject to extinction in the form in which it appears, and thus the sphere of the determinate is at the same time the sphere of the finite. It is only natural, therefore, to seek for true reality in a complete sum of particulars. It soon becomes apparent, however, that a complete sum of particulars cannot possibly be obtained, and thus once more we seem to be driven back upon a reality beyond all particulars. This is manifestly the dialectical process which Kant has formulated in his first and second Antinomies. Nor is there any difficulty in finding it exemplified in more recent writers. Mill, for example, is continually struggling in the grasp of this contradiction. Maintaining that knowledge rests upon particulars of sense, he is forced to confess that no sum of particulars can warrant a general inference, and that ultimately induction rests upon what we can only call a "leap in the dark." If we could get all the particulars, induction would be superfluous; but, as we cannot get them all, we have to assume that the 'unknown' is the same as the ' known.' The same difficulty presses upon him, and upon all his followers, when the mind is declared to be a series of feelings; and Mill himself, at last, candidly admits that it is "inexplicable" how a series of states should be aware of itself as a series. The true inference from this contradiction, surely, is that which Hegel draws, that a number of particulars which are mutually exclusive is a very inadequate characterization of the real world. It is overlooked that to be mutually exclusive, things must be related to one another. Thus, what at first seems to be a merely qualitative distinction, i.e., a distinction attaching to particulars in their isolation, is in reality a distinction which implies a relation between particulars. When we see that an isolated thing has no qualities, and that the determinations of any given thing are continually changing, we begin to distinguish between the essential and unessential, and to recognize the permanent relation in the continuous process of change to which all finite reality is subject. The categories by which reality is then characterized are set forth by Hegel in the second part of his Logic under the title of "Essence"

To follow Hegel in this complex region would be a long task. Perhaps it may be enough to say that he here expands the Kantian categories of Relation (Substance, Causality, and Reciprocity) into the whole system of such categories, and, in accordance with his dialectical method, he endeavors to exhibit these in the order of their adequacy as characterizations of the real world. Like Kant, he ends with Reciprocity, in which the mutual relation of substances, still conceived as in themselves distinct, is on the point of passing into the categories of ideal unity. This brings us to the third part of the Logic, which Hegel calls the sphere of Conception


The discussion of the categories of Relation has made it apparent that Reality cannot be adequately conceived, after the manner of Spinoza, as a Substance which preserves itself by simply persisting unchanged in all the changes of the finite; nor is it merely a name for the orderly series of those changes themselves, as Comte, for example, affirms; nor, again, can it be regarded as merely a congeries of mutually dependent changes which leave Substance itself unchanged, which is the favorite idea of the "scientific" philosophers; but Reality enters into and constitutes the very life of the changes. We must, therefore, conceive of the real as a Unity, which actualizes itself in a process that manifests its true nature. True reality implies a self-active process. To this unity Hegel gives the name "Conception" (Begriff}. It is important to note that by "Conception" Hegel does not mean an abstract idea, obtained by the elimination of concrete differences: he means, in fact, exactly the reverse. We shall, perhaps, best understand him by considering that the true "conception" of a thing is its ideal, which is also its real, nature, or the energy by which it preserves its self-identity in spite of all the forces which threaten its destruction. Thus, the "conception" of a living being is to be formed by following the process in which it manifests its unity. Similarly, the "conception" of the thinking subject is discovered by tracing the actual process of thought by which it exhibits its unifying activity in judgment and inference. This explains why Hegel begins this part of his Logic by treating the process of thought as exhibited by the thinking subject. In the categories of Reflection, the subject penetrates the real world so far as to combine the particulars of experience in the unity of the system of nature. But the unity so obtained is that of an aggregate, and, like every aggregate, it suggests a unity beyond it. Thus, as Kant pointed out, the thinking subject comes to the consciousness of itself in the return from the consciousness of Nature. What Hegel seeks to show is, that Nature is not the construction of a merely human or conditioned intelligence, acting upon a given material, but that it presupposes an absolute or unconditioned intelligence, without which it could not be. The thinking subject, in other words, is not outside of the realm of reality, but its process of thinking must be included within the totality of reality. We must not efface the unique character of thinking beings, as not only energies, but energies which can make themselves their own object. We have, therefore, now to consider the phases which the thinking subject exhibits when it is made a direct object of consideration. From this point of view, the thinking subject is contrasted with the system of Nature: it has freed itself, in virtue of its inherent energy, as a thinking being, from the tyranny of particulars, and is able to develop its own forms of activity.


But, although the Logician can thus isolate the forms of thought, these have no value except as they are forms in which the real world becomes the possession of the thinking subject. Hence, it is only insofar as the subject sets aside all preconceptions and grasps reality as it is, that its subjective activity has an objective value. When this is clearly perceived, it is recognized that the end towards which the thinking subject is ever striving is the comprehension of the world in its completeness. Now, when we ask what is meant by the objective world as a whole, we discover that it is a reality, which first appears as a mechanical system, then as a system in which the parts are not merely connected with one another but have an inherent affinity, and finally as a system in which all the parts are related to one another as means and ends. But even this last way of viewing the objective world is so far inadequate that it gives us only a series of means and ends, without revealing the organic unity or immanent teleology of the whole. Thus, we are led to see that the only adequate conception of existence is that of a self-determined organism, in which each organ is itself self-determined. The various phases of this ultimate view of things are treated by Hegel under the title of the "Idea." The organic unity of the world first appears in living beings, and then in a higher form in beings which realize themselves in knowledge and action. Knowledge passes through the phases of analysis and synthesis on its way to "truth," while the process of action consists in a realization of the "good," which is the principle of the whole. And when we ask what is the ultimate point of view from which reality must be regarded, we must now answer that it consists in viewing it as the expression of a self-realizing intelligence, which reveals itself in, and to beings who are themselves self-realizing, a view which is proved by the exhaustion of all less adequate modes of conceiving it. This is the final result of the process of Logic, and, if it is correct, we may be certain that all the processes of Nature and of Mind must be so related to one another as to exhibit the gradual emergence of an ever clearer manifestation of the perfect rationality of the actual world in which we are placed. Thus, as Hegel believes, a thorough criticism of the ideas by which the human mind inevitably seeks to grasp the true nature of things, confirms that implicit faith in the divine perfection of the world, which is the moving energy of all science, all art, and all religion. It need hardly be added that the process of development exhibited in the Logic, is nothing but a critical exposition of those ideas. It is " objective" in the sense that it sets forth in systematic order all the categories by which man, as a self-active intelligence, is enabled to grasp the real nature of things. This, of course, does not mean that the world is nothing but a system of abstract ideas; it only means that the world in all its multifarious energy, whether as Nature or as Mind, is the expression of a self-determined unity. "All is thought," in the sense that all is rational, not in the sense that the whole wealth of existence is reducible to the conceptions to which existence must conform. Hence Hegel next considers the manifestation of Reason in the concrete spheres of Nature and of Mind.


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